July 20, 2022

Park Board Meeting on Mobility Feasibility Study Swerves into American Style Politics

The biggest show in town this week was at the Park Board office in Stanley Park where a few Park Board Commissioners turned a simple request to approve the terms of reference for a mobility feasibility study into what could be perceived as an unfortunate highly emotional American style political spectacle.

By American style politics the referral is to thinking of things as individuals instead of ascertaining what is best for all and working collectively with the other Parks Board Commissioners.

Since this was the last Park Board meeting before the Civic Election on October 15, 2022, the two NPA members of the Park Board swerved the meeting to represent their own point of view, instead of the collective interests of the Park Board.

 

The two NPA commissioners,  John Coupar (who is also the candidate for mayor for the NPA) and Trisha Barker (who is running again for Park Commissioner for the NPA) have fiercely advocated to have the 11 kilometers of  Park Drive returned to a two lane vehicular driving route through Stanley Park. During the pandemic Park Drive was firstly closed to vehicles, but allowed bicycles, and then shared one of the lanes with cyclists. 

At the time of the road closure, Mr. Coupar cited that such a closure to vehicles was unsupported. In actual fact it was Dr. Bonnie Henry the Province’s Medical Health Officer that agreed with the closure. Remember this was in March 2020 to June 2020 when how Covid-19 was spread was not well known.

With increased use of the park during the pandemic by walkers, rollers and cyclists, a temporary bike lane was implemented to provide more space for physical distancing. Anyone walking or biking along the seawall can attest to the pinch points along these routes which brought people uncomfortably too close together.

Given the increasing density of Vancouver and the importance of Stanley Park for recreation and access, it only made sense for a Mobility Feasibility Study to be conducted by Park Board staff to take a look at usage in the park, figure out how people were getting around, identify what was happening internationally and suggest some alternatives for mobility in the future. Nowhere in the Feasibility Study is it mentioned that the road network in Stanley Park will be closed to vehicle drivers.

It was at this stage, when the Mobility Feasibility Study was brought back to the Park Board Commissioners for a review of the seven guiding principles outlined here, that the two NPA Commissioners went off in a quibbling tangent.

The purpose of this report was to review the principles for the study, nothing else.

But in  American style politics, the NPA Commissioners turned this into a fight for the right to drive in the park, as if this report was going to turn around vehicles at the Stanley Park border. People were signed up as an “NPA” event to speak about the right to drive  through the park as if approving  these seven principles banished motordom.

 

Nothing could be further from the truth. How can you plan for future use of a park if you cannot even get the principles of the study discussed? But in filibustering American style speakers wanted to talk about the existing bike lane on Park Drive, which has nothing to do with the approving of principles for a mobility feasibility study.

These members of the public had probably not read the 94 page report, taking it on good faith from the NPA leadership that this was their chance to talk about the bike lane. The chair of the Park Board adjourned the meeting on Monday to Tuesday, giving the General Manager of the Park Board time to sort out the Commissioners on what was being discussed: namely the seven principles of the Mobility Feasibility Study.  There was also  ground rules instituted on deportment for all those speakers responding to the NPA call.

On Tuesday the meeting was reconvened. After hearing the many speakers, some who off-roaded on the purpose of the report but did so largely respectfully, it was time for the Commissioners to vote.

The vote to accept the principles of the Mobility Feasibility Study passed 5 to 2, with NPA’s Mr. Coupar and Ms. Barker dissenting.

Mr. Coupar in his closing statement rued that the cones of the temporary bike lane “compromised enjoyment of the park”.

Ms. Barker wanted accessibility to be the number one objective instead of safety, and stated that the over 4,000 surveyed for data in the feasibility study did not compare to the 17 million people that used the park.

Ms. Barker’s interpretation of the numbers is not correct. In actual fact there were 17 million VISITS by 9.5 million people, with 48 percent of those people visiting living within ten kilometers of the park. That 48 percent visit the park many times and use it as their main park.

There was also no discussion about the draft horse in the room which could easily improve vehicular flow  in an instant on Park Drive. But famous actor/songwriter/animal activist Jann Arden added it in on twitter:

Animal welfare advocates in other Canadian cities have ended the practice of horse and carriage operations in civic jurisdictions years ago. 

The operator of the horse tram business in Stanley Park has a four decade monopoly on horse operations, and spoke during this meeting about his preference to  be in the bike lane instead of the vehicular traffic lane, which would speed up vehicular traffic.  The bigger question is of course whether it is time to put the  colonial practice of working horses all day on paved roads out to pasture, and of course provide less congestion.

The Mobility Feasibility Study will report back early next year on findings and recommendations, to a newly elected Park Board.

Stanley Park is a city park, although the businesses that operate in it do not cater to local people. There is a  balance between being an attraction and being a local serving park, when the need to physically and mentally get into nature is paramount for residents.  Revenue from park businesses fund part of the ongoing services of the Park Board. The City of Vancouver taxpayer  ponies up the rest.

Mario Canseco of Research.co conducted a survey in June 2022 finding that 52 percent of people want to see the Park Board eliminated. This is the last Park Board in Canada, where there is a separate paid staff and paid elected officials that do one thing: manage parks. An outside consultant’s civic management report prepared over a decade ago suggested it was time for that body to be abolished because of a duplication of staff and services.

You can take a look at the Park Board meeting  on the Mobility Feasibility Study video here.

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Anybody who has to invoke “American style politics” into a discussion must have slept through the Puil- Rankin era. Or just wants to offend expats. Canadians are quite capable of being (comment deleted) on their own.

  2. Thank you for this good analysis Sandy. It is so disheartening to see Coupar and Barker using seniors and people with disability against efforts to de-congest Stanley Park of cars – especially in this climate crisis. There are so many ways we can provide full access to SP for those who need it.
    Examples could be:
    – a free, frequent shuttle bus – at least in spring, summer and fall
    – and maybe one that can hold bikes for those who want to ride a short distance
    – also to allow those with disabled stickers on their cars to enter the Park
    – have electric golf carts been considered?
    – and maybe taxis

    And if the Park Board doesn’t have the money for a shuttle service – how about charging people $5 or $10 to drive into the Park and that money be put towards a shuttle. There are many possible solution to this battle – we just need to think outside the box. I notice that parks in San Francisco and New York are car free. This is not a new idea.

    One thing that disturbs me is that the opposition campaign uses the slogan “Stanley Park for All” ie not just for healthy cyclists. They push the issues of the elderly, mobility challenged, families with kids etc. My response is “Yes – Stanley Park for All – not just those who own cars!” Many of us don’t own cars!

    I am 72 years old (so not a young, fit, lycra clad racer!) and yet riding a bike is my primary form of transportation. My partner has mobility challenges and certainly could not ride far in the Park. I also have quite a few friends who cannot ride bikes at all because of physical challenges. So I am personally very aware of these issues. However, none of these people are keen to see the Park full of cars again. There are many people who drive through the Park who do not need to.

  3. Always appreciate your thoughts on civid matters like this, but I can’t say I agree with the statement, “The purpose of this report was to review the principles for the study, nothing else.”. I think that’s a charitable view. The majority commissioners have made it clear that they wish to move towards less car access in the park and the report speaks to exactly this and more. It also refers to other parks which have reduced or eliminated cars entirely, as a model to consider following.

    In other words, the report is clear that reducing car access, even eliminating it, is a goal. “There is considerable supporting policy at multiple levels of government to reduce and shift vehicular travel to sustainable modes of transportation.” This theme is repeated in the report, “Public opinion generally desires changes in the Park’s transportation system, including reallocating space to other modes and/or reducing private vehicle traffic”. so it’s not just a review, but clear recommendations based on questionable “public opinion” because the sample of 4,000 respondents out of 18 million visitors a year is a speck and is likely weighted towards activists who make sure they spread the word (on both sides of the issue).

    There are many activists on social media who are clear about wanting cars banned from the park entirely and. they were active in promoting this to the Park Board, so it is impossible to separate a report like this from the risk of that very outcome, especially when staff do appear aligned with the current Park Board majority in the way the report is framed, with some seriously misleading equivalencies, like comparing other parks, which are surrounded by roads and transit, to this park, which is almost entirely surrounded by water.

  4. “Ms. Barker’s interpretation of the numbers is not correct. In actual fact there were 17 million VISITS by 9.5 million people, with 48 percent of those people living within ten kilometers of the park.”

    So over four million people live within ten kilometers of the park? Doesn’t sound correct either.

    1. Post
      Author

      Keith, please re-read the sentence.There were 17 million VISITS by 9.5 million people.
      Of this 48 percent of people VISITING live within 10 km. of the park.
      So yes, there were four million VISITS by people living within 10 kilometers of the park. Tourists visit once. People living within ten kilometers come very often, and use it as their closest park.
      A Commissioner of the Park Board should have read through the report and should have understood the difference between VISITS and numbers of visitors.
      Misinformation is never helpful, especially on the last Park Board meeting of this elected park board.
      You can read the full report here

  5. Commissioners Coupar and Barker either think that advocating for more cars in the park is a political winner or they are true believers convinced they’re fighting the good fight. Either way, they’re wrong. They’ll spend the rest of their lives stewing over the horribly progressive turn our society has taken. Fine with me. So long as more active mode space is granted in the park.

  6. We must maintain a dedicated bike route, a dedicated pedestrian route and a single lane for cars. Also, we must abolish the Parks Board.

  7. If there was a high frequency shuttle service going around the park, I don’t think it would be the end of the world if private vehicles were banned totally from the park. There would have to be some kind of a feeder from Waterfront Station to tie in the rest of the transit network of course.. Acres of pavement devoted to parking could be re-greened and Stanley Park would be improved.

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